by Richard, Everett Public Library staff
For some, short story collections can be a hard sell. Some readers want a specific beginning, middle, and end (preferably with a twist) to their works of fiction. Others want the sense of accomplishment that comes from getting to page 300 and still having a ways to the end. A short story is, well, short and really can’t deliver in either of these areas. Don’t give up on the form though. As a matchmaker might say, maybe you just haven’t met the right kind of short story. Perhaps it is a matter of shared interests. In order to help you find the right collection, here are four new works coupled with personality traits. It’s time to take the plunge.
If you like: different perspectives, economic downturns, Sherwood Anderson, drinking Guinness
The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan is for you. While dubbed a novel, this work is actually a collection of interconnected short stories that reflect the thoughts and experiences of several members of a small Irish village. Each story is from a different villager’s perspective, but they all reflect the recent impact of the financial crisis that began in 2008 and the social conditions it brought about. This is hardly a political work though and is much more concerned with individuals and how they survive. Since the reader is privy to the characters innermost thoughts, each external event has multiple meanings depending on perspective. If you are a fan of the book Winesburg, Ohio you will really like this one.
If you like: complicated women, the desire to escape, family (kind of), oppressive Florida sunshine
The Isle of Youth: Stories by Laura Van den Berg could be the one. Though the settings can be exotic (Patagonia, Antarctica, Paris, several in the hazy heat of Florida) the characters in these stories are all dealing with a sense of detachment from the ‘norm’. A failing relationship, be it with family, a partner, or societal expectations, serves as the catalyst for an attempt at self-examination. The author also adds a great neo-noir feel, especially in the stories set in Florida, which adds to the atmosphere. The story titled Opa-locka, with a sister detective team working for a former Opera singer who suspects her husband of infidelity, is a real stand out and was recently chosen as one of the O. Henry Prize short story winners.
If you like: violent modern fables, an extremely dark sense of humor, unreliable narrators, explosions
The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq by Hasan Balasim might just be the ticket. The grim, brutal, and often darkly funny stories in this collection are all products of wartime Iraq. Don’t expect to find a political or historical angle, however. Instead you get a series of fantastical and surreal tales ranging from a middle manager at a terrorist guild using artistic merit as the bar for success (The Corpse Exhibition) to a radio game show with traumatized contestants competing to tell the most horrific tale (The Song of the Goats). What comes through in all of these stories is the intense desire to tell a tale. It might be true, it might not, but the ability to tell it to another is of the utmost importance.
If you like: brevity, a straightforward style, disturbing undertones, Havarti cheese
Karate Chop: Stories by Dorthe Nors is your kind of book. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly mundane tone and setting. Underneath the surface of these very brief stories, lies some really intriguing yet disturbing stuff. The author can take an everyday activity (a walk in the park, searching the Internet) and expose the complex thoughts and emotions involved simply by examining the event closely. The author’s combination of economical prose and the short length of the stories themselves leads to a streamlined and ultimately pleasing effect. This is the first book translated into English by this Danish author and hopefully not the last.
Hopefully you have found a collection or two that has piqued your interest. No need for a long-term commitment. These are short stories after all.